When Your Beloved Dog Or Cat Is Inside A Driverless Car Expect The AI To Go Into Pet Mode

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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What is the most popular type of pet in the United States? Kind of a trick question, I suppose, since you undoubtedly first thought of dogs or cats. The answer is that freshwater fish are the most popular pet, consisting of an estimated 142 million of them.

I’ll give you another try: Are there more dogs or cats as pets in the United States?

Turns out there are about 88 million pet cats and 75 million pet dogs in the US, so cats come out to be the victor in terms of popularity by count. Dog owners would likely argue though that in spite of there being more cats, maybe we should count popularity by some other factor and dogs might therefore be considered the top dog, so to speak.

Putting aside the debate about which kind of pet is the most popular, it is somewhat surprising to realize how big the pet market is.

An estimated 68% of United States households have a pet.

The spending on pets in the United States is an estimated $70 billion or more.

That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of households. That’s a lot of people that either own a pet or maybe enjoy being with someone else’s pet.

I used to have a dog. I used to have a cat. I mention both of them since some of you might think I’m more of a dog-person or a cat-person — I’m an equal opportunity pet owner (I’ve also had freshwater fish, birds, reptiles, etc.). For my dog, I would occasionally take him down to the beach for a romp on the sand. He loved to run around and chase the birds and chase the waves as they crashed on the beach. It was quite a workout for him and he’d be tuckered out by the time we got back home.

Getting him to the beach was a bit of a hassle.

Animals Inside A Car Can Be A Daunting Matter

When I took him in the car to the beach,excitability would sometimes get the better of him while in the car. This meant that there might be biological emissions during his time in the car, including excrement and urine, which obviously is not what one usually hopes to have in their car.

Whenever you have an animal inside a car, it can be a dicey proposition for a slew of reasons.

As the driver of the car, you certainly don’t want the animal to interfere with your driving.

A cat that’s allowed to wander anywhere within the confines of the car could suddenly jump in your lap and you’d be so startled that you’d maybe steer the car off a cliff. A dog that can move around could get angry at a dog on the street and start barking, maybe distracting you, doing so just as you are making a right turn and perhaps you inadvertently hit a nearby pedestrian.

A rule-of-thumb would seem to be that for any animals inside a car, it’s best to control them in a manner that they cannot disturb the driving of the car.

Impacts Of Having An Animal Inside A Car

Here’s some possibilities that we want to presumably avoid when transporting an animal inside a car:

  • Animal endangers the driver
  • Animal endangers other occupants
  • Animal endangers the car
  • Animal endangers itself
  • Animal endangers others outside the car

There have been cases of animals inside a car that wreaked havoc on the interior of the car.

I even heard one time that a person left their engine running, got out of the car to do some quick task, and the dog somehow bumped into the transmission knob and the car went into drive.

Pets can do any of these things:

  • Become scared
  • Get startled
  • Become upset
  • Get angry
  • Try to run or scamper
  • Bite
  • Become confused
  • Scratch
  • Etc.

If anything, I’m often concerned not just for the human driver or the human occupants, but also for the animal itself. When someone thinks they are doing a good thing by letting their dog roam freely in a moving car, they aren’t thinking about the harm that can come to the dog. Suppose the driver suddenly hits the brakes? That dog is going to go flying in the car and possibly get injured or killed by hitting something in the car or maybe even getting thrown outside of the car.

Autonomous Cars And Pets Going For A Ride

What does this have to do with AI self-driving cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving driverless autonomous cars.

This includes encompassing various “edge” problems such as the transporting of pets (animals) while in an AI self-driving car.

In the case of an AI self-driving car that is less-than a Level 5, there needs to be a human driver at the ready to drive the car. This implies that if you do have an animal in the car, it’s similar to the situation today of having an animal in a conventional car. Anything that the animal does that disturbs the human driver can have adverse and dire consequences.

I realize you might be thinking that if the AI is co-sharing the driving task, why doesn’t it just wrench control from the human driver if the human driver suddenly becomes unable to do the driving task.

This has several problems.

One is that how will the AI realize that it is best to take control from the human driver? Even if the AI is detecting whether the human driver has their hands on the wheel or maybe via a camera whether the human is looking forward at the road, trying to judge when it is appropriate to take over control is not very transparent. Imagine too if the AI does take over control and it turns out that the human was still in control, but that the AI now maybe is going to take an untoward action since it doesn’t know what the human driver was intending to do.

You could even get into a tug of war between the AI and the human, trying to take control from each other.

You might say that if the AI is indeed watching what’s going on in the self-driving car, maybe it should be sharp enough that it can figure out that say a dog is loose or cat is loose. Yes, you could potentially have the machine learning recognition that would be programmed for this, but it is much subtler than you might think. Generally, it would require some kind of common sense reasoning to try and decide whether the dogs or cats are doing something relatively safe or unsafe.

In recap, here’s some aspects involved:

  • AI tries to ascertain if an animal is amuck
  • AI potentially takes over driving task if human driver seems unable
  • Human driver can signal to the AI to take over the driving task
  • Human driver can signal to take back the driving task or refuse to give it up
  • Miscommunication in the co-sharing could have dire consequences
  • Misunderstanding in the co-sharing could have dire consequences

Pet Mode For An Autonomous Car

One approach too involves having the AI be a kind of an alert monitor about the animal in the self-driving car.

In essence, the AI could be placed into “pet mode” and be ready for the particular dynamics of having a pet inside the self-driving car.

This pet mode could be initiated overtly by the human occupant telling the AI to go into pet mode, or it could be figured out by the AI via machine learning recognition of the “objects” inside of the self-driving car (and possibly with a confirmation to the human driver that indeed there is an animal on-board).

Part of the “pet mode” could be that the AI would be on the watch on behalf of the human driver about things that the pet is doing. It would be akin to having a passenger in the car that can tell you that the dog just chewed the backseat armrest, or the cat is curled up in a ball on the floor.

You could potentially have the AI try to talk to the animal. Perhaps your pet dog has been trained to listen to the AI of your self-driving car. The AI then could potentially tell the dog to sit down or get into the backseat. I realize this seems kind of wild as an approach, but as you’ll see in a moment, maybe it’s not as crazy as it seems.

Let’s now consider the use of “pet mode” for a Level 5 self-driving car.

In the case of the Level 5, the AI is doing all the driving. There is no human driver. This is handy because it implies the animal is unable to distract the driver. Whatever the animal does, the AI is still going to be able to drive the car.

The only way the animal presumably can disrupt the driving would be if it is able to damage something inside the self-driving car that could hamper the AI or the car itself. Suppose that there is wiring just under the dashboard and somehow the dog gets to it and chews through those cables.

This then brings up facets about the interior design of the self-driving car. It is generally envisioned that since there is no longer a need for a human driver in a Level 5 self-driving car, we can redesign the interior compartment of the self-driving car. No need to have a seat facing forward in the same place that today’s driver seats reside. Instead, the compartment can be perhaps seats that swivel and face each other.

When redesigning the interior of cars to be suitable as a self-driving car, one additional consideration will be the nature of the occupants and what they might do inside the self-driving car.

If you are going to put your children into a true AI self-driving car in the morning so that they will be driven to school, doing so without any adult supervision inside the self-driving car, you want to know that the children hopefully cannot harm themselves by poking around within the interior of the car. Today’s cars leave all sorts of metal joints and prods fully exposed inside the compartment, which a small child without supervision could easily harm themselves on.

The same could be said about pets that are unsupervised.

Just imagine how people will opt to send their pet by itself in the family AI self-driving car to go visit the vet, or go visit grandma, or be sent to a pet playground.

The redesign of the interior of a car should take into account the notion that today’s designs are inherently dangerous and assume that whomever is in the car will be somewhat supervised. True AI self-driving cars won’t necessarily have an adult in the car to undertake supervision of children and nor pets.

Overall, this implies that the interior has to be made safety proof with regard to whomever is inside the self-driving car. There shouldn’t be any easy way to cut yourself. There shouldn’t be any easy way to undermine the capabilities of the self-driving car by hitting something or chewing on something.

Perhaps there might be a special leash or restraint system that keeps the animal relatively safe, but also allows for open movement while in the car, most of the time (the restraint system might opt to more strongly restrain the animal if getting into rough traffic, or maybe if the pet is getting out-of-hand). Anyway, you can just see the ads now, the XYZ auto maker comes out with a pet friendly AI self-driving car and tries to lure buyers that have pets — could be a sizable segment of the market.

People are going to want to have their pets go lots of places that right now involves too much of a hassle for them to drive their pets to, and yet with a true AI self-driving car it could be a breeze. Some ridesharing services might tout that they have pet-devoted AI self-driving cars, ready for the transporting of your favorite dog, cat, or fish. I’ve already predicted that with the advent of AI self-driving cars we are going to see all sorts of induced demand. This is demand for using a car that otherwise today is suppressed or that people don’t even think about currently.


I began this discussion by pointing out that we today spend $70 billion on our pets, doing so for pet food, pet toys, pet care, and the like. It seems logical and inevitable that true AI self-driving cars are going to ultimately intersect with our desire to have pets.

Right now, if I told you that someday your pet will be driven around in an otherwise empty car, you’d think I was loco or that it would have to be some crazy rich person that is spending way too much money on their pet. In the future, the prevalence of AI self-driving cars will open the avenue for considering ridesharing involving our pets. Easily, readily, at a low cost. It’s going to happen.

The idea of a pet mode for an AI self-driving car is not particularly far fetched if you have a long-term view, at least that’s what we say.

Well, I suppose it could be that me and my team just love our pets so much that we insist on somehow getting them involved in AI self-driving cars.

I wonder if I could train a dog to do AI coding?

Or, would a cat do a better job at it?

It’s hard to say.

For free podcast of this story, visit: http://ai-selfdriving-cars.libsyn.com/website

The podcasts are also available on Spotify, iTunes, iHeartRadio, etc.

More info about AI self-driving cars, see: www.ai-selfdriving-cars.guru

To follow Lance Eliot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@LanceEliot

For his Forbes.com blog, see: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/

For his Medium blog, see: https://medium.com/@lance.eliot

For Dr. Eliot’s books, see: https://www.amazon.com/author/lanceeliot

Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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